The Algarve is full of little charming towns and villages that are often overlooked when one decides to book his or her holidays in the southern region of Portugal. These hidden gems are truly amazing, with stunning natural beauty and an architecture that reminds us of how the country used to be half-century ago. On this list there are 20 recommendations of rural villages and towns that you should visit next time you happen to be in the Algarve.
Estoi is a village in the municipality of Faro and until recently was known as Estói, as only in 2004 did the Portuguese Parliament changed its name to Estoi. The calm atmosphere experienced in this locality will enchant you. Small and friendly the town of Estoi is often overlooked for the common coastal towns of the Algarve. In Estoi there are the Roman ruins of Milreu, an important vestige of the Roman occupation of the Lusitanian lands.
It is also in this parish that is located the beautiful Palace of Estoi. Its construction began in 1840 and would end in 1909. Although the facade of the building is simple, it hides within the rich opulence characteristic at the time (something that can be seen at the richly crafted rooms of stucco and the magnificent paintings of the ceilings). The room that stands out most is the large ballroom full of stuccoes, mirrors and paintings. Also worthy of note are the gardens of the palace. Nowadays the palace is converted into a guesthouse.
Santa Bárbara de Nexe
Santa Bárbara de Nexe is a village in the northwest of the municipality of Faro and home to the beautiful Igreja Matriz, one of the most important churches in the Algarve. The human presence in Santa Bárbara de Nexe dates back to the Paleolithic, about 30,000 years ago. The Cynetes, Phoenicians, Romans and Moors also passed by the parish. With the Christian reconquest, led by King Dom Afonso III, the parish was integrated into the Kingdom of Portugal.
The village of Santa Bárbara de Nexe is also known because of the tradition of playing accordion, preserved by its inhabitants, and that attracts composers and performers of this musical instrument from all over the country. The Santa Catarina dos Gorjões Chapel (a temple of late medieval origin) and the windmills and ancestral water wells complement the historical and cultural heritage of Santa Bárbara de Nexe.
São Brás de Alportel
São Brás de Alportel is a village surrounded by Tavira, Olhão, Faro and Loulé. In the 19th century, the village became an important economic centre due to its cork oak plantations. These plantations encouraged commercial development and made the village the largest producer of cork in Portugal and the world. São Brás de Alportel is in a privileged area, surrounded by woods and mountains, offering a spectacular view of the sea and the surrounding region.
It was in this small locality that Carlos Gago Coutinho was born (although it was registered in Lisbon) and, together with the aviator Sacadura Cabral, he became a pioneer of aviation by completing the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic.
In São Brás de Alportel there is also a very interesting Ethnographic Museum of the Algarve.
Silves is a rural town in the Algarve region with 6000 inhabitants. Named Xelb, Xilb or al-Shilb during the Muslim dominion of the Algarve, Silves was reconquered by Dom Sancho I in 1189 with the aid of a fleet of Danish crusaders. Due to its agricultural prosperity and commercial importance, the city was the capital of the Algarve for several centuries.
Silves is a typical regional town with small, narrow and whitewashed houses, and with an imposing church situated next to the castle that overlooks the whole town. The Castle of Silves is one of the most important historical monuments of the Algarve. The fortification has the form of an irregular polygon surrounded by a strong wall and outside the main door is a bronze sculpture of king Dom Sancho I. A great way to see Silves Castle and city is from the River, you can go on a River cruise from Portimão to Silves and have time to see the city.
Silves is part of this list of rural localities, due to its rustic and wild nature, which makes the city an unknown place to most tourists who visit the Algarve.
Sagres is a Portuguese village in the municipality of Vila do Bispo in the Algarve. Important for the Portuguese Discoveries, since it was the site chosen by Infante D. Henrique, the main promoter of the Portuguese overseas expansion, to create the famous nautical school, Sagres is a small town in the extreme southwest of Portugal. Because of its remote location, Sagres gives an end-of-the-world feel to its visitors with its rugged cliffs, wild winds and no vegetation.
Once in Sagres, you can try a Surf Lesson.
Being in a strategic location for entering Europe or Africa, the port of Sagres was frequently attacked by corsairs, leading to the construction of Sagres Fortress, an imposing military defense structure erected in Sagres Promontory.
The village of Castro Marim, situated on the right bank of the Guadiana River, was occupied by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Arabs until it was reconquered by the Portuguese in 1242. Because it is a border town near the sea, Castro Marim was for centuries a strategic place of war in the Algarve.
The natural beauty of Castro Marim has created a village which seems lost from civilization, where people move slowly and peacefully. Visiting the salt flats of Castro Marim is an excellent opportunity to get to know more about the customs of this Mediterranean village.
Moncarapacho is a typical village of the Algarve’s Barrocal, situated among soft hills where fig trees, almond and pomegranate trees abound. Moncarapacho was first mentioned in 1368, when king Dom Fernando offered to João Afonso and his successors a vineyard with fig trees, in the area of Tavira called Moncarapacho.
This small village has as main attractions the Igreja Matriz, built in the first half of the 15th century, the Igreja da Misericórdia, built during the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries, the Capela de Santo Cristo, built in the 17th century, and the town’s museum. If you happen to visit Moncarapacho, you should also head to Cerro de São Miguel which offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views in the Algarve at the top of its 411 meters.
Alte is a parish in the municipality of Loulé. Situated in the Algarve, this small village is extremely charming. Alte conserves the roofs, the traditional chimneys and the streets paved in Portuguese sidewalk.
Fontes de Alte are one of the most pleasant places in the Algarve, with its crystal clear waters of Alte’s river hidden by a wooded area of great beauty and peace of mind. The place of Fonte Grande, suitable for barbecues and free picnics, at the edge of the river (in an ideal place for diving in the natural swimming pool), is a true paradise.
A great way to get to know Alte region is on a Jeep Safari.
Paderne, previously known by Paderna, which meant rough, rude, hard and intractable, is a parish of the municipality of Albufeira. This picturesque village, situated in Barrocal, offers splendid natural and architectural landscapes. Paderne is surrounded by lush fields, a perpetually cold water river and pines.
It is estimated that the Castle of Paderne was founded by the Almohads (members of a dynasty from Morocco) in the second half of the 12th century. The castle includes a tower over 9 metres tall with a quadrangular plant that still to this day is conserved in excellent conditions. The two castle’s cisterns give testimony of the two main moments of occupation of the castle: the Islamic and the Christian.
The village of Bordeira was created by the Bishop of Silves in 1464, who ordered the inhabitants of Silves to build a church there. The village is located in a region of archaeological value (with some vestiges of the Palaeolithic), and there is even a silo of circular plant from the period of Islamic occupation. Situated on the stunning Costa Vicentina, the village of Bordeira is very fertile, allowing the population to live off the land (and sea).
At the entrance of the village is the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Encarnação. Another of Bordeira’s attractions is Bordeira Beach, considered one of the most beautiful in Portugal due to its white sand and translucent water.
The village of Cachopo is located in the municipality of Tavira, in Serra do Caldeirão, between mountains and valleys. The rustic aspect of its streets and typical houses is due to the predominance of shale. The inhabitants of Cachopo are mainly engaged in agriculture, livestock, beekeeping and cork production. In the area there is also developed works in linen, the manufacture of aguardente and sausages.
Take the opportunity to visit the Cachopo Museum, the ethnographic and anthropological museum that portrays the culture and customs of the people of the Algarve, and the Windmills.
The village of Ferragudo by the sea is a land of fishermen. The village of Ferragudo originated around the 14th century, when fishermen who sought at sea the sustenance for their families decided to settle in the area. After being coveted by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the mouth of the River Arade was to be dominated by the Romans, who gave great importance to the fishing and the salting process of fish.
Perched on a cliff facing the estuary, the village of Cacela Velha breaths history and reminds us of an Algarve of half a century ago. In the year 713, during the campaigns of Abdelaziz, Cacela passed to the Muslim domain. In 1240, the village was conquered to the Moors by Dom Paio Peres Correia. On June 24, 1833, in the midst of a civil war, a liberal force of 2,500 men disembarked in Cacela, and proceeded to crosse the entire Algarve and Alentejo to deceive the absolutist army and enter Lisbon.
This quiet village enjoys a great natural and architectural beauty, as you can see in the typical whitewashed houses. In addition to cafes and restaurants, the village boasts a beautiful church and the remains of an 18th century fort.
São Bartolomeu de Messines
São Bartolomeu de Messines is a village of Arab origin, hidden in the middle of mountains and groves. It is in the area of Messines that the dams of Funcho and Arade store the waters of the river Arade to guarantee the water supply of the Algarve during the long and hot summer months. The poet João de Deus, inventor of Cartilha Maternal, was born in Messines.
The isolated village of Messines seems to be stopped in time, immersed in the idle patience characteristic of the Algarvean rurality.
It is estimated that the place name Algoz originates from the Arabic word “Al-Gûzz” which designates a warrior tribe from the Middle East, which would have settled in the area in the 12th century. In fact, Algoz was an important settlement during the Arab occupation due to its proximity to Silves.
The village is known for its wine production, almonds, wheat, figs, olive oil, tomato, cauliflower, strawberries and citrus.
The Ermida de Nossa Senhora do Pilar, the Igreja Matriz, the Barn, the Ermida de S. Sebastião and the Apeadeiro de Algoz complement the historical and cultural heritage of the village.
Alcantarilha has vestiges of remote human occupation, and its location at the top of an elevation has made it a strategic place of defense. Alcantarilha was strongly influenced by the Moors, something visible in its own name which derives from “Al-Qantara” that means “bridge”. In this way, “alcantarilha” would mean “the bridge”, in reference to the old small bridge that crossed the stream of Alcantarilha.
The Chapel of the Bones, in Alcantarilha, constitutes a different attraction of an exotic beauty. Attached to the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, the chapel dates back to the 16th century. Its interior is covered by more than 1500 human bones, which are thought to have belonged to Jesuits who perished in the region.
The presence of the Romans in Caldas de Monchique, seduced by the healing properties of its medicinal waters, led to the construction of a thermal building, which in turn marked the beginning of the importance of the Monchique area. Over the years, the importance of the baths increased, causing Portuguese kings and queens to seek them eagerly. The denomination Monchique derives from the name attributed by the Muslims to the mountain range: Munt Šāqir, meaning “Monte Sacro”.
The charm of the village of Monchique can be felt in full on the morning of a clear day, when the sunrise illuminates the tranquillity that is breathed in the village, where there are no schedules, no lines of traffic; just whispers and relaxation.
Since the Middle Paleolithic era, Alcoutim has been populated by Man. This small village, bathed by the river Guadiana, offers a glimpse of a rural Algarve forgotten in time. The architecture of the typical Algarve village is made up of traditional whitewashed houses. The natural landscape surrounding the village is unbelievably beautiful, combining the green of the mountains with the blue of the river.
It is presumed that the first people to set themselves in Salir were the Celts. Salir is today a prosperous parish of agricultural base, producing almonds, locust beans, olives, cork and wheat. The village of Salir is often seeked by tourists due to its remarkable landscape.
From the Castle of Salir you have a spectacular panoramic view over the green hills and the sea in the background.
Salema, where the famous Salema Beach is located, is a fishing village located in Vila do Bispo, Algarve. The streets of the village are winding and the houses are painted in the traditional whitewashed way of the Algarve region. The village is situated on the stunning Costa Vicentina and is famous for the excellent fish that is cooked there, which is fished on the exact same day that is cooked.